The blood is rushing in his ears. The blood is rushing in his ears and Hot Dog Guy flings himself forward before he realizes it, arms pinwheeling. Stupid blue haired kid. Stupid blue haired kid, hit by car, hit by car, and his head is smeared across the pavement.
Hot Dog Guy kneels at the kid’s side, takes one of his hands and tucks it close to his heart. If anyone asks him later if he was comforting Gumball Watterson he will shake his head and say no.
The kid’s face. Shit, he thinks, says, probably. There’s so much blood, smeared across his face, leaking into the crevices of the boy’s neck and into his collarbones. That attractive smattering of freckles at his cheekbones is now a spray of crimson and dark, deep black. It glistens in the light and coats Hot Dog Guy’s hands and he can’t breathe.
It’s supposed to be picture day. It’s supposed to be picture day and Gumball Watterson is supposed to be a happy and healthy creature. Instead, he is nothing but a ridiculous smudge on the bottom of some guy’s tires.
The guy didn’t even stop. Didn’t stick around. Just like the high school students staring in deep, endless shock as Gumball Watterson’s body bounced off the hood and rolled across the pavement. His younger brother and sister are locked onto him, eyes never blinking, their mouths gaping. Hot Dog Guy thinks that if looks could scream that they’d all be shrieking.
Principal Brown is here, now, having moved to high school with the Watterson kids to keep an eye on Gumball. He’d lied about it but they all knew the moment it was official.
Hot Dog Guy wonders if he can fix this. Darwin and Anais aren’t moving, aren’t blinking, and he doesn’t know what to do. The kid had been crossing the street. He wasn’t supposed to get hit by a car.
“I know,” Principal Brown says, his palm at Hot Dog Guy’s cheek. He quickly pulls him away, Miss Simian at his side like always. She touches Gumball’s face, leans down to listen to his raspy breathing.
“Someone called 911?” She asks, glancing up. When no one responds she shakes her head and reaches into her pocket to dial.
Hot Dog Guy listens to her, to the silence. The phone call doesn’t last long. A routine call for the paramedics, most likely. High school students hit by cars might be their normal.
Hot Dog Guy hopes it’s not his.
The EMTs barely move Gumball Watterson when they finally arrive. They lift him onto a stretcher and send his brother and sister to the principal, knowing that someone will get them to the hospital.
One of them grabs Hot Dog Guy’s hand with a latex glove, and pulls him into the ambulance. It seems to snap him out of his daze, his eyelids flashing all the way wide.
He tries to pull out of grasp, but she’s saying something, her lips moving.
His mouth tastes like cotton. Is it supposed to taste and feel like a cotton ball is wedged in there? He’s pretty sure that’s all in his head.
He’s about to tell her so when he feels his blood rush in his ears again. Is losing your hearing a part of passing out?
He wakes up on a cot in the ER, with his two older brothers sitting beside him and his mom’s hands in his hair.
He can feel the blood in the cracks of his palms. He tells his mother this, lifting his head, staring at her with wet and wild eyes.
“Honey, they cleaned your hands,” she says, “I promise. You’re not there anymore. You’re safe.”
“Gumball got hit by a car,” he says, explains. Maybe she doesn’t know. Maybe she does. This would be easier with Dad here.
“I know, baby,” she says. “The doctors are with him. You passed out from shock, sweetheart. We’ve been here the whole time.”
Gumball Watterson could die, he tells them all, staring, blinking rapidly at the ceiling drop tiles.
“I want to see him,” he says.
“You can’t yet, bud,” Earl says. “They’re still working on him.”
His other brother nods, tucking one of Hot Dog Guy’s hair back into place.
“Trust me,” he says, gravely, “you wouldn’t want to see him like he is now.”
That’s right. Dave was the only one there when Dad died at this very same hospital. He’d been 8, the middle child, forced to watch as his father passed. No one else was in the room.
Hot Dog Guy doesn’t envy him. He never has.
“Danny,” Earl says. “Don’t think about it. Just go to bed. We’ll be here.”
“Promise,” Dave says.
Hot Dog Guy looks at his mother, acknowledges his actual name. “Okay,” he breathes. “Okay.”
He falls asleep almost instantly.
As it turns out, Gumball Watterson barely survives surgery. Crashing twice, hanging on the whole time by a thread. Darwin tells him about it in the waiting room while their parents go speak with the doctor. Anais tucks her head into her Daisy the Donkey doll and cries when she thinks no one is listening.
A broken tibia and fibula on the left leg. Three cracked ribs. A heart with permanent damage. A brain that’s not going to fit together quite like it used to. A wrist that snapped so cleanly against the pavement it was drilled together again. One titanium rod, 8 screws, and two plates. Gumball Watterson will never walk without pain, breath without agony, or be able to flick his left wrist again.
No, Hot Dog Guy does not envy him.
The fluorescent lights do him no justice. Gumball’s face is sallow, his organs struggling not to fail beneath the skin. Hot Dog Guy holds his hand and tells himself it’s okay to comfort his anonymous blue stranger.
Maybe if he says his name often enough it’ll imprint in his mind like the whisper of breath against skin. He lays his head next to Gumball Watterson’s left flank and inserts his glasses in his vest pocket.
“I don’t think you’re predictable,” he says, slowly. The heart monitor that alarms frequently due to low blood pressure answers him. “The predictable thing would be to die. I need you to do one thing for me, Gumball Watterson. Don’t die.”
Somehow, he doesn’t.
The next few weeks are quiet. Gumball doesn’t wake up, even though Hot Dog Guy visits him daily to check on him.
The nurses know him by name now. They call him Moon’s Lover, because apparently Gumball is akin to the moon. He doesn’t get it, but it seems to make those unhappy nurses happy. He won’t take that away from them.
Nicole and Richard Watterson often sit with him before or after Hot Dog Guy arrives. They talk, too, mainly because he’s their son and they want to, but also because the doctors tell them it’s natural. Sometimes people report hearing conversations, even though they were asleep the whole time.
Hot Dog Guy wonders if they will be as fortunate. He reads Gumball his favorite poetry and tells him about when his dad died. He tells him what it felt like. The physical therapy nurse pretends not to listen, but when he’s finished with his rugged tale of his father’s battle with brain cancer, she wipes discreetly at a tear.
He teaches Gumball quantum mechanics, and takes naps in the recliner beside the bed. He always wakes to one of Gumball’s siblings or his parents, and feels sorry for taking up the seat.
One day on his way out, Nicole stops him, her eyes incredibly, inexplicably wet.
“I just want to thank you for sitting with him,” she says, choked. “He doesn’t have a lot of friends, and I… I, oh God, I miss him.”
“I miss him,” he says, even though he and Gumball had hardly spoken in two years. “I miss him every day. He kinda lit up the room, you know? Not always with sunlight but sometimes with fire. He was forgivable. He was good. I want him to wake up.”
“I don’t want him to die,” she whispers, sobs. Hot Dog Guy rests a hand on her shoulder in a comforting sweep, like a son to his mother, and heads out the door.
He will pretend later that the moisture at his lower lashes accumulated from dust in this immaculately clean hospital.
No tears. Not since Dad.
A Thursday evening damn near scares his heart to pieces. It would be easy to panic. A phone call at 9:33 at night? Gumball Watterson could very well be dead.
“You won’t believe it,” Nicole tells him, hysterical. She is breathing, shakily exhaling, but then she’s giggling, chuckling, laughing even. “He’s awake. He woke up not ten minutes ago, and they’re performing some tests. He asked for you specifically. I know that you don’t have to, but if you’d ever like to see him I’d-”
“I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” he tells her, breathlessly.
He drives to the hospital, fitted with license and wallet, and pretends he doesn’t receive a warning from the police for speeding.
The critical care nurse points him towards Gumball’s room with a smile on her face and a relieved blush at her cheeks.
“He’s been asking for you,” Nicole repeats, choked up as she wrings her hands together in front of her breast. Darwin and Anais step back from the bed with watery grins, straight into their father’s waiting arms. “He’s been mumbling about you like crazy.”
Hot Dog Guy swallows, removes his sunglasses. He tucks them into his pocket and leans over Gumball Watterson’s bed, fingertips at the ready to brush his dark raven-blue hair from his eyes.
He pretends no one is watching.
“I heard you,” Gumball says, slurs. “Everythin’. The whole time.”
“I’m glad,” he says, laughs through the tears that cloud his vision. Gumball can hardly breathe, even with the nibs at his nostrils, but he’s doing his best. His raccoon mask is becoming, but fading.
“Stay?” Gumball asks, trying to reach for him with his good hand. “Want you…”
17 year old Hot Dog Guy melts. He looks to Gumball’s parents and at their approving nods, takes his usual seat in the recliner.
“Of course,” he breathes. “I’ll be right here.”
“Cool,” Gumball breathes, and fades back into unconsciousness.
“He heard you talking to him,” Anais says, as soon as her older brother can’t hear her. “The whole time he was in his coma, you talked to him, and he heard you.”
“I just didn’t want him to be alone,” Hot Dog Guy admits, at last. He ignores that familiar, familial Watterson noise those people reserve for cute animals or happy babies.
“He was never alone,” Nicole says, gesturing towards him. “He had you all along, didn’t he?”
“Neither of you knew,” Richard says, awfully poetic for a less than intelligent pink rabbit. “It’s like the Beauty and the Beast.”
Before her husband could turn into a wreck, Mrs. Watterson led him to the waiting room, and sat with him for the rest of the visiting hours. Darwin and Anais stayed with him, for a time, but seemed to catch on that Hot Dog Guy had unfinished business to privately discuss with a less than conscious Gumball.
He doesn’t deserve their entire family. God, how he was wrong all these years about who his anonymous blue stranger was, and where he’d come from.
He remembers the sensation of Gumball on his lap, and the hugging. They’d been so innocent back then, those five years long past. He couldn’t imagine getting away with singing with Gumball Watterson in a tent in his backyard now.
“I don’t think you’re predictable,” he repeats. “So I need you to come back to me. Because I have a lot I want to tell you. There are so many poisonous snakes to buy,” he teases, at last. His mood quickly sours, turning somber, at the tangible reminders that Gumball is not okay and may never be okay again.
“I’m your friend,” he says. “But I’d like to be something more, if you’ll have me.”
Gumball sleeps in response.
The next few weeks are even more enlightening. Gumball’s cracked ribs begin to heal. His left leg gets it’s cast. His left wrist earns another unfair surgery to remove two screws and one plate. His raccoon mask is nothing but deeper than normal dark circles at his lower lashes. His heart is still in worrying condition, maybe even worse than his glutton of a father’s, but they don’t let it get them down.
Everything is fine, up until November 8th. 3 days before Veteran’s Day, Gumball Watterson regresses and slips into a funk. His mouth opens, his right wrist curling against his chest, impossibly tight, and his right leg begins to wobble. Hot Dog Guy pretends bad things don’t happen and goes to get the nurse anyways.
They’ve locked him out of the room by the time Gumball starts seizing. He’ll never forget it, the way that his head drops to the side, his lips sticking together with taccy drool. It will never be easy to forget.
So he doesn’t.
It’s fine, he tells his mother over dinner. She is worried he spends too much time at the hospital, and fears for his mind. He is morbid now, she tells him, when he calls his brothers out on their puerile behavior.
His hands are shaking by the time he reaches his bedroom. When he swings open his door and it hits the wall with a resounding thud, he soon follow, closing it with the weight of his body.
He feels like he can’t breathe. All those days and nights sitting at Gumball Watterson’s bedside with a sick imagination. He wants to kiss him, he thinks, and then knows. And it’s wrong, because Gumball’s defenseless, could do nothing to protect himself, if Hot Dog Guy ever wanted to kiss him or something more.
And he knows, he knows he would never do something wrong like that. But he wants to hug him and tell him to breathe, just breathe, because they’re going to be fine , and as soon as Gumball gets out of the hospital they’ll be fine , just peachy, and things won’t go back to being awkward because he’ll have survived, and-
And he just can’t live with that. If things go back to being awkward, he’ll lose every abnormal part of his life and he’ll simply blend back into the crowd. Gumball Watterson will get better and then forget him. He will get better, and he will forget that Hot Dog Guy ever told him about quantum mechanics and the loss of a really good father.
And then he’ll be alone again.
He’s still panicking, fighting vicious, seemingly endless depressive thoughts, when his cell rings. He crawls on his hands and knees towards it slowly and pulls it to his ear.
“Hello?” He asks, assuming it’s a telemarketer. It is around 6, after all. “Who is it?”
“Hey,” Gumball breathes, and it’s the best damn sound he’s ever heard. “What are you doing right now?”
“They let you have a phone?” He asks, taken aback, quickly pedaling in reverse. “Wait, wait, Gumball! You’re awake!”
“Yep,” Gumball Watterson says. “And doing just peachy.”
“I,” he says. “You sound - where are you? Are you… are you at the mall? I can hear Christmas music.”
“Outside the mall, actually,” he says, and goddamn if knows he’s grinning. “Got bored. Walked across the street with my walker. Can you believe it? They gave me a walker, and I-”
A cough punctuates his last sentence, sending a jolt of fear down his spine. His gut wrenches when he looks out his window and sees early snow.
“I’m coming to get you,” he says. “It’s snowing outside, and you’re going to catch a chill.”
“Anais says there’s something wrong with my brain now,” Gumball interrupts him, suddenly. He sounds heartbroken, his voice cracking down the middle. It is the first time that Hot Dog Guy has ever heard him cry. “She says I have brain damage, from all the heart stopping and the seizure. Well, the seizure was caused by the brain damage. And I just-”
Another cough. Hot Dog Guy slips on his tennis shoes and grabs his coat, phone at his ear, and kisses his mom goodbye.
“Where are you going?” She asks, and he mouths Gumball emergency . Her face twists in unimaginable sympathy.
“Gumball,” he asks, worriedly. “Are you still there?”
“Just thinking,” Gumball says.
“About what?” He responds, cautiously. He pulls out of the driveway and takes the shortcut to the mall, tearing up rubber on the highway. Gumball is quiet most of the ride, but finally breathes heavily into the phone and says, “about my life, dude.”
“Your life matters,” he says, without hesitation.
“I just,” Gumball slurs. “What am I gonna do with it?”
“Whatever you want,” he promises. “But you gotta live to do the things you want. I’m parking now. Be there in like three minutes.”
True enough to his word, Hot Dog Guy spots Gumball sitting on a bench at the empty bus station and skids to a halt. He turns, half sits on the cusp of the metal frame, and shivers in his thin coat. Gumball must be tortured in the night air, he thinks, prodding him to take his jacket.
Gumball doesn’t hesitate. His thin arms are bruised and battered but he takes the coat and wraps himself up in it, pulling his legs closer to his chest. Hot Dog Guy’s really glad the kid’s got underwear on.
“We have to go back,” Hot Dog Guy says, unnecessarily.
“I know,” Gumball grumps. “Just… let me feel the cold a little while longer.”
“You’ll have plenty of winters yet,” he says, but allows the younger teenager a few extra seconds.
“We’ve got to get you back inside,” he says, acknowledging the kid’s vast shuddering. “Your parents must be so worried.”
“They left an hour ago,” Gumball says. “We really can’t afford the hospital. But they tell me we can so I don’t worry. I think I do anyways.”
“Would you let me carry your dumbass?” Hot Dog Guy asks, reaching for his blue haired, not so stranger with his big hands. His biceps flex when the kid nods slowly, forgivable to a new T.
“It’s normal to worry,” Hot Dog Guy tells him, something he never let himself hear. He can believe it now, he thinks. Because Gumball will be fine. He could be fine. “I worried a lot about my mom after Dad died.”
“I’m sorry,” Gumball says, teeth chattering. Hot Dog Guy shrugs, because Hell, it still sucks after all these years. Maybe it never gets any easier.
The sunset is pale and very blue. Gumball Watterson is not heavy, and he is easy to carry back through the hospital doors. He smells like winter when Hot Dog Guy is forced to say goodbye, praised for finding the missing patient.
He misses him more than anything, especially on the empty car ride home. Gumball never inhabited it before, but he can smell him on his coat. It feels like he could have lived in his car for a million years, and Hot Dog Guy will never be able to be rid of him.
He doesn’t want to let go.
“You like papayas,” Hot Dog Guy says, incredulously. “But you don’t like starfruit.”
“I don’t like unripe anything,” Gumball returns sassily. “But no, I don’t like starfruit.”
Hot Dog Guy sits up from his position on Gumball’s roof and turns to face him.
He’s lucky they’re here. It’s snowing and sleeping bags aren’t exactly the warmest when they’ve been handed down for generations. Gumball lets him spread a quilt across their body and they share a limited, approximate foot of breathing room. The roof isn’t the safest spot to watch the stars but it’s the best, according to Gumball. Hot Dog Guy thinks he could listen to him talk forever.
“You’re telling me, that you don’t like starfruit? Of all the innocent fruits,” he says, mock shock spread across his face. He raises one big paw to his chest and smears it, pretending he doesn’t think of Gumball’s near death. He breathes a little harder here.
Gumball’s face is flushed at the cheekbones but it’s with joy, not pain for the time being. He’s smiling, a real grin, one that lights up his eyes and crinkles his lids.
He wants to kiss that same smile.
“Starfruit is really good,” he says, faintly, absently, as Gumball’s face grows nearer.
“Yeah, uh huh,” Gumball replies, just as softly. He bites his lower lip, and then pushes himself up onto his elbows, pressing his lips effectively against Hot Dog Guy’s.
He feels like a supernova explodes behind his eyes. Nothing has ever felt so right in his entire life. He moves, pushes ever closer, and keeps one big hand at the lithe boy’s lower spine.
Gumball’s much smaller hands rest at his shoulders, at his blades, then at his lovehandles. Hot Dog Guy blushes but lets him, leans back and breathes at last.
“I was waiting for you to do that,” Gumball breathes.
“I was waiting for you,” Hot Dog Guy says. “I didn’t want to be awkward.”
“Things are going to get more awkward,” Gumball says, snickering into his good palm. “I, um, I can’t get up. I’ve laid here too long. Carry me inside?”
“That’s not awkward,” Hot Dog Guy says, laughs for the first time in a long time, and complies.
Gumball doesn’t sleep on the top bunk, he knows. He’s not sure why. But he pulls them both inside, even though the movements are jerky and spasmodic, and he hits his head on the window frame.
Gumball chuckles, but thanks him with a kiss on the cheek for setting him down gently. Darwin’s already asleep in the top bunk, so Hot Dog Guy crawls into bed next to him with a promise to get the rest of their stuff in the morning.
He’s not sure who’s more surprised when they fall asleep almost instantly.
They’ve got things to talk about, and things to work out, but they’re gonna be okay.